Frindsbury Barn

frindsbury-barn-insideTwo years ago I set off on my walk across the estuary of North Kent and begun writing my book, On the Marshes, which is due out next year. On that first walk I passed a beautiful barn, Frindsbury Barn and wrote the piece below.

On the Marshes – Deleted Scene – May 2014

“There was another place my mind turned to. A place I had passed on a quiet lane as I had pounded wet and tired into Strood on a Bank Holiday Monday last May. I had seen a footpath leading away through long grass and then a glimpse of a red roof and, despite it all, I had been intrigued and taken a diversion. There I had found a beautiful black barn, ancient, peg tiled, set on a chalk ridge commanding a view of the river. Two wings projected out from the barn doors, little slatted windows could be seen further along and one end rose several stories high. It was set within a meadow of vetch and cat’s ear and yarrow, the kind of place where bee orchids bloomed. It was surrounded by high metal fencing, one end covered in scaffolding. A sign on the door read, ‘Unsafe, do not enter.’ It was magnificent and vulnerable. I wanted it.

For one moment I entertained a vision of buying the barn with crowd funding, restoring this beautiful building to the people of Medway and creating a centre where I could showcase that there was an alternative way to live. Still, there was. There was still a way to live that was in tune with nature, in tune with the seasons and the basic needs of humanity. We would run courses where ordinary people could learn the skills to lead a more sustainable life. Where the unemployed, the drug dependent, people on probation and those suffering from all manner of 21st century meltdowns could work outdoors with their hands, learn skills and achieve something which would set them back on the right road in life. We would run meetings where we would decide how to work as a community to protect this beautiful area from the ugliness which was poised to engulf it. We would all leave, chilled and purposeful and walk down the hill to the train station. There would be no parking.”

front-of-barn-2

Today I visited this beautiful building as part of the Heritage Open House scheme and found out that all my dreams look likely to come true. The owners are planning to convert the barn using apprentices and farm the surrounding land using traditional techniques. It is a project I very much hope to be a part of but still needs funding to see it reach its potential. Find out more here.

On the marshes – To be published

14 writing by the estuaryAlmost a year since I finished my journey across the North Kent Marshes meeting people living alternative ways of life, I am happy to announce that I have just signed a publishing contract with Little Toller Books.

Little Toller Books are an independent publisher who look for writers who ‘seek inventive ways to reconnect us with the natural world and celebrate the places we live in.’

On the Marshes follows my journey from Gravesham to Whitstable meeting houseboat owners, chalet dwellers and friends of hermits living in the woods. The journey was a way of understanding my own experience of living in a caravan on the marshes for three years, my eviction from my home and the subsequent breakdown in my long term relationship.

I hope the book will help people see the beauty and value of an atmospheric corner of England which is under constant threat and give an insight into why some people follow an alternative route in life.

Many thanks to Little Toller for seeing the books potential, to my agent Joanna Swainson of literary agency Hardman and Swainson for working so hard to get me a deal and mostly to the many wonderful, kind, brave people who took the time to meet me and share their stories with me.

Getting a publishing deal is a huge and longed for step for me but I get the feeling that a new journey is just beginning and their will be a lot of learning to do before the book is finally on the shelves. Like any big and scary change in my life I am dealing with the only way I know how and have begun to write something new.

 

Always another fight.

Always another fight.

how many meds

Burntwick Island, a great place to land a sea plane……Not!

I feel these days there is a never ending stream of battles to fight. No sooner do you breathe a small sigh of relief at the squashing of one scheme poised to damage the places you love then another comes along. It wears you down, but I guess that’s the point.

On Thursday by accident I hear of a proposal to begin a sea plane business in the Medway Estuary. The guy shows me the map of where the planes are planning to land, between the breeding tern colony on Burntwick Island and the RSPB reserve of Normarsh. This area is a RAMSAR site rightly protected as one of the most important places for breeding and overwintering waders and wildfowl in the country.  Peel Ports are running a consultation I am told but I am amazed that the proposals have even reached this stage.

I call my friends, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership, the RSPB, Countryside professionals in Medway Council. None of them have heard of these plans. So just who is being consulted?

Having raised the alarm things swing into action. The conservation bodies who protect this area begin to add their voices to the consultation.

“Well done you, for making people aware of this,” my friend says before going on to tell me that a development company have just won their appeal to build on the site at the end of my road.

Bakersfield is a scrubby brownfield site chocha block with songbirds, including nightingales, orchids and reptiles. McCulloch Homes’ original planning application had been thrown out by Medway Council as the site is just too valuable for wildlife but now the developers have won on appeal because the council isn’t meeting the government’s demands for housing at a quick enough pace.

I had protested against these plans, breathed a sigh of relief when they were dropped and now I have to swing into action to protest again. I do so, writing to Buglife, to the council, to my MP but it is exhausting, it is time consuming, it is never ending. It is designed to grind you down and make you stop saying ‘No.’ But saying No is still our right, it is the most important thing we can do. While I still live in some semblance of a democracy I will keep going. Raise awareness, protest, say no. giving in is not an option.

To contribute to the consultation for sea planes landing in the Medway Estuary contact james.goodfellow@peelports.com

To protest against the planned development at Bakersfield contact planning.representation@medway.gov.uk

 

Estuary Life – The Next Step

I have signed with an agent but where next?

I have signed with an agent but where next?

I am pleased to tell you that I have just signed with literary agency Hardman and Swainson who will be hard at work hopefully finding Estuary Life a publishing deal in the near future, but will it still be called Estuary Life? Probably not, we are currently toying with various titles, something I will be the first to say I have never been good at, but hopefully we will come up with something which appeals soon.

Joanna Swainson was an early advocate for the idea behind this book and gave me faith that I was onto something when all I had was one chapter and some rough plans. She came to visit the marshes on a terribly wet winters day and subsequently her and partner, Nick Russell-Pavier joined me on a outing to Elmley Marshes. I am really looking forward to working with Joanna over the next few months.

Having wrestled this book into existence I am most certainly into my writing groove and already beginning to think about ideas for my next book. If you would like advice on nature writing and publishing then why not come along to one of the two nature writing courses I am running in the next couple of weeks for the Up on the Downs Festival. See the events page for more details.

 

An Interview with Stephen Turner in The Mudlark

Stephen Turner in Darnet Fort

Stephen Turner in Darnet Fort copyright: Stephen Turner

Last year I was lucky enough to interview the artist Stephen Turner in his studio at Chatham Dockyard. Stephen talked to me about his time camping on Hoo and Darnet Islands in the Medway Estuary and his concerns for the future of the area. The article is published this month in the Mudlark, an annual publication by the Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership. Read a copy of the magazine here;

http://issuu.com/medwaycouncil/docs/mudlark-2015-lr

or read the full article below

Escape to an Island-page-001

Escape to an Island-page-002

Escape to an Island-page-003

Estuary Life – The Final Leg

For the last year I have been walking across the marshes of North Kent writing about the lives of the people who have chosen to live in an alternative, simpler way. I began the last leg of my trip by catching a lift aboard the Edith May, a Thames sailing barge.

Ed and Geoff man the Edith May

Ed and Geoff man the Edith May

Estuary Life – Lower Halstow to Upnor

I climbed onto the Edith May, a Thames Sailing barge built in 1906, restored by Geoff Grandsen and his son Ed. In her early years she had worked these waters, collecting grain from Great Yarmouth and delivering it to London. Geoff had bought her as a wreck for £5000 and was restoring her, a project which was costing a lot more.

The crew prowled the decks, waiting for high water, Ed scaled the rope ladders, the kettle rang out from below, the chatter was all of laying up and bilge pumps, hard water and rigging and mostly about the barge match that the Edith May was to compete in the following day, a competition, Ed told me, “had stopped being competitive for a while but was now a serious business again.”

Finally we loosened the ropes holding us to the dock and motored out into the estuary, piped away by the oystercatchers. We passed the islands of Milford Hope, streaks of saltings disappearing beneath the rising tide. The land stretched away, all the miles I had walked. The path to Lower Halstow I had ran along in the rain shower, Darnet Island, where the rats danced at night, Bumbleness Creek, with its German U-boat. The place I had swum with Carl. It was the river I had read about with Mr Coles Finch, the river of Francis Drake and prison ships, of Man O Wars and the Dutch fleet coming to burn them. It was the river of dredgers and smacks, bawley boats and barges like this one. 1 Ed up the rigging

Ed climbed into the rigging once more, to untie the ropes which bound the top sail, the sail flapped overhead. Craning my neck to see him at work it was like looking up into the roof of a cathedral. The rust red wing unfurled and flapped in the wind. Ed shimmied down again and began pulling on ropes. It wasn’t work for the feeble, he hauled on the rope, using his whole body strength, bending at the knees and swinging back up to snatch the rope and pull again. I felt exhausted just watched him and happily gobbled down chocolate biscuits which came with a welcome cup of tea.

As we passed Hoo Ness Island other barges could be seen, moored up.

Ed pointed out his competitors.10 the competition

“The Edme,” he said, pointing to a slightly slimmer, smaller boat, manned by boys with dreadlocks and a feisty dog that ran along the decks barking abuse at us. “It is the number one barge,” he said, eyeing it with envy.

The men on board were busy polishing the woodwork.

“Too late for that,” he shouted to the crew. “You’re either ready or not.”

The crew waved back in acknowledgement.

“No one beats it,” Ed said and bit down hard on his chocolate biscuit.

Ed eyes up the competition.

Ed eyes up the competition.